“I think the worst is over but there’s a risk that’s still there,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said.
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — The Hatcher Mountain fire that swept across Wears Valley is about 5 percent contained and consists of about 3,700 acres, Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said in an update Thursday morning.
Some 11,000 homes were evacuated starting Wednesday afternoon, Waters said.
Also, some 100-plus structures have been “affected,” the mayor said, including many that were completely destroyed. Many homes and cabins were in the path of the fire.
Spanish Version: Alcalde: Incendio forestal en Wears Valley cerca de 5% contenido, cerca de 11,000 casas evacuadas
“I think the worst is over but there’s a risk that’s still there,” the mayor said.
Just one civilian has suffered injuries so far. No one has died. Five government vehicles burned or were damaged in the blaze, Waters said.
“Thank you for the thousands of people that prayed for Sevier County during this event,” Waters said. “I think that all of us felt those prayers, and we appreciate that. The fact that there are not reports of fatalities or missing people at this time, I think, is answered prayers.”
The mayor praised the more than 70 agencies and 200 people from across the region and state that responded to Sevier County starting Wednesday afternoon.
The fire poses less of a threat now than it did earlier, Waters said. Overnight rains helped somewhat, fire officials said.
“We do have firefighters on the ground working as we speak to contain more of this fire,” Waters said.
Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson said more hours of work would be needed before he could declare it “contained.”
“Until we’ve got a box around it we’re not going to call it contained,” Watson said.
Said the mayor: “I know folks want to go home.”
Waters said flames came close to the city limits of Pigeon Forge but did not quite reach it, to the relief of many involved. He credit fire crews with preventing the sweeping fire from getting closer to the city.
Evacuation orders remain in place for numerous areas in Wears Valley.
Wears Valley wildfire (3/30-3/31, 2022)
Suppression efforts are ongoing for the blaze that’s now more than 24 hours old.
At the state’s request, the Tennessee National Guard was providing six UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to aid in firefighting.
Two Blackhawks left McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Air Base about 8 a.m. heading for the burning Sevier County hills. They carried “Bambi” buckets to load and dump water.
“Each aircraft will make multiple trips,” according to a bulletin from National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Darrin Haas. “The Blackhawks will pick up water from nearby water sources and transport it directly to the needed area. Two more Blackhawks crews are scheduled to depart at 10 a.m. and two more crews at noon.
The fire broke out about 11 a.m. in the Indigo Lane neighborhood off Hatcher Mountain Road in Wears Valley.
Residents told WBIR they noticed smoke that appeared to resemble a chimney fire in the area. Fueled by dry conditions on the ground, the blaze spread rapidly among homes and cabins on the thickly wooded hillsides up above Wears Valley Road.
Authorities began issuing evacuation notices that steadily grew in geographic area as the hours ticked by. The Sevier County Emergency Management Agency ordered people in the Wears Valley and Walden’s Creek areas to get it.
It also created a dynamic map people can access and type their address into at this link, to help residents see where they were in relation to the evacuation area.
By 1 a.m. Thursday, the fire evacuation circle had been extended for the Dupont Area from South Rogers Road to the Blount County Line of Sevier County.
“If you are unsure if you are in this area, you should evacuate,” the EMA said.
Crews from throughout the region offered assistance including the Knoxville Fire Department, which sent six engine companies from Wednesday through early Thursday to help. KFD also said they will help rotate members to allow firefighters time to rest.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism